It’s simple, but true …

Many of us have several children. God has one Son. Just one. He sent Him to die. The previous three sentences — just 11 words — hold many truths from God’s Word. They are simple, but staggering, plain, but potent.

It seems that God prefers the simple and plain. He is grand and glorious, yet shares His love and truth in ways that are well within our reach. I am grateful for that. Consider the announcement of the birth of Jesus. It was delivered by an angel, regal and resplendent, to … shepherds. Simple shepherds. In those times shepherds were humble folk, the least and lowly. If Bath and Body Works released a Christmas candle in tribute to those shepherds it would be called, “Reeking Ragamuffins.” And, those fellows were chosen as the first to hear of the birth of our Savior. Grin, smirk even, because that is how God works. He bypasses the lofty bee-lines right to the regulars, regular folks knee deep in need and steeped in stress. I would guess that you are catching the lyrics and picking up the tune here. God comes to the common and coarse. That’s us.

Soak in one of Jesus’ first sermons. It was fulfillment of Isaiah 61:1-2 as well as the proclamation of the mission of Jesus. It is the Gospel unpacked and applied:

“And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Luke 4:16-21

Please re-read it slowly. Read it aloud. Breath it in. It’s direct, and directed to us. It is God through Christ focusing His favor on rag-tag folks. Hear the heart and mission of Jesus spoken plainly:

  • He came to proclaim and purchase redemption, forgiveness, and salvation.
  • He came to repair broken hearts and lives.
  • He came to untether the tangled.
  • He came to open eyes to Truth and hope.
  • He came to bend open the bars and usher us to freedom.
  • Then, He said, “this is why I am here.”

To summarize each and all of those — He came to save us. He came to save us from our sins, our struggles, and … ourselves. God’s great gift is salvation through His Son. Though it came at a great price, it is freely offered.

Please pardon the solemn tone of this post. Christmas is joyful, a time of celebration, but remember, it was costly. Embrace the problem of our sin and separation from God. Embrace Jesus’ stepping from heaven to here, a demotion on all counts. Embrace His teaching, His death, His love in both.

As you enjoy your children this Christmas recall that God only has one Son. His Name is Jesus. He sent Him to die. Now, we can be God’s sons and daughters. Embrace your adoption into His family.

Embrace the Gift. Embrace Him …

Merry Christmas to you all!

Happy Birthday to our Redeemer-King!

Overcoming, in a bold yet becoming way…

Just when you were gaining ground they arrived. You know who “they” are. They are the ones who grumble and gripe. They have a dozen reasons for why something won’t work or can’t be done. You dread seeing them coming, despise hearing their droning, and are deflated when they finally move on to frustrate someone else. This type of folks has always been around. A textbook example of these cranky critics and how to overcome them is found in the Book of Nehemiah.

 

The theme of the book is Nehemiah’s work to rebuild Jerusalem’s walls. The book is brief, but has a bounty of lessons about life, faith, work, attitudes, and leadership. It is one of the most practical and applicable books in the Bible.

 

In the first two chapters we see how Nehemiah’s work and service to God began. Nehemiah had heard that Jerusalem was in great disrepair. He responded to this news by mourning for days. He then fasted, prayed, and asked God to clear the path for him to go and rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. Soon after, while doing his ho-hum job of being the cupbearer for King Artaxerxes, Nehemiah had the opportunity to gain the king’s approval to go and rebuild the walls. As a further answer to Nehemiah’s prayer King Artaxerxes even provided a letter of protection as well as the supplies for the work! A lesson here is that while you are faithful in your mundane, day-to-day role be sure to watch for God to do something astonishing. The “small” role that Nehemiah had worked in for years became the springboard for a big assignment.

 
As soon as God had granted Nehemiah initial, and visible, success … trouble began. Enter the professional troublemakers: Sanballat (wasn’t that the name of an 80’s pop band?) and Tobiah (the translation of that Aramaic name is “kid who never got picked for dodgeball because of his dopey name). Those two didn’t want Jerusalem restored or for Nehemiah to prosper. So they began expressing themselves as a means of depressing others. Nehemiah chapter two concludes with this passage:

 

“Then I (Nehemiah) said to them, “You see the trouble we are in, how Jerusalem lies in ruins with its gates burned. Come, let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that we may no longer suffer derision.” 18 And I told them of the hand of my God that had been upon me for good, and also of the words that the king had spoken to me. And they said, “Let us rise up and build.” So they strengthened their hands for the good work. 19 But when Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite servant and Geshem the Arab heard of it, they jeered at us and despised us and said, “What is this thing that you are doing? Are you rebelling against the king?” 20 Then I replied to them, “The God of heaven will make us prosper, and we his servants will arise and build, but you have no portion or right or claim in Jerusalem.” Nehemiah 2:17-20

 

Some quick take-home, or take-to-work, application points for us:

  • Nehemiah inspired those that he would led. He encouraged them, told them what they should do, and why they should do it. Good leaders share the “why” along with the “what, and in the process lift others up rather than tearing them down.
  • At the first sign of success the nay-sayers unleashed a barrage of finger-pointing and fault-finding. Those remain the tools of the trade used by cynics today. Learning to spot these will aid you in setting your feet and standing up to scoffers. It is worth considering that sometimes the loudest and most critical doubter you hear resides within you. Recognize that self-doubt — especially if it’s constant and contrarian — is the work of your sin nature or the enemy; it’s not from God. God desires us to keep moving ahead despite doubters, both external and internal ones.
  • Nehemiah overcame the scoffers in a becoming yet bold manner: God is with us, we will keep working, and this is none of your business. A sanctified smackdown (check out the Archives for the June 5 post Words of Grace, and Granite for more on santified smart-aleckry). It’s a rousing response for your critics: God’s in it and keep your nose out of it.

 

As you go about your life and work please remember Nehemiah’s example of faithfulness and watchfulness while his work began and his strength and savvy  that kept the work going. Take some time this week and walk through the Book of Nehemiah. God will use it to instruct and inspire you. He might even show you how His great work flows through your daily grind…

Truth for those trying times…

As you stride through the fields of life you move through patches of briars and brambles, those patches usually feature dark clouds and cold winds as well. Each of us have gone through these times. Each of us will go through more of them. A memory of such a tough time may have flashed upon your mind’s High-Def screen. As those memories are awakened it is a fine opportunity to recall how God brought you through challenging seasons of life. Enter Romans 15:4:

 

“For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”

 

As I read that passage this morning seeds of thought sprouted. As the thoughts rooted, then grew, I took to pen and paper. Here are some of the principles that bloomed:

  • First, God’s Word is given to for us instruction. Obvious from the text, I know, but the instruction of God’s word is the beginning of the construction of our hope. Or, to put it another way, God’s instruction to us is the framework for our hope in Him.
  • Second, for us to continue climbing steep slopes in life — often rain-soaked and slippery, no less — we must decide to persevere. Romans 15:4 points out the practice of pressing on as a link to hope. During trying times God demonstrates His graciousness to us and we should demonstrate our grittiness to Him. Endurance is faith in continued action.
  • Third, God’s Word is given to us for encouragement. Again, obvious from the passage, but, what is not obvious is the connection of the hope that we receive from the Scriptures to our means of receiving it. Here it is: God’s Word instructs us, our endurance propels us, and His Word then encourages us. At this point it would be easy, and self-gratifying, to think that our endurance is the link between the instruction given and hope gained in God’s Word. It’s not. Our endurance is necessary, but not primary. The question raising its hand and squirming in its seat begging to be answered is this, “Where does the endurance come from?” Just as instruction and hope come from God, our endurance comes from Him as well. Scripture shows us that God is the source of our endurance. It’s not us. It never is.

 

“May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you…”Romans 15:5

 

Colossians 1:11 steps in as a reminder as well:

“May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy…”

 

These two verses reveal that our ability to endure comes from strength that God provides. The real lesson here, and true hope, is that it’s all by God’s grace.

Through His grace:

  • His Word instructs us.
  • His Word delivers hope to us.
  • His Spirit grants strength to us, so that we are able to endure.

 
It’s His grace top to bottom, front to back, and on all sides.

 

When you find yourself struggling uphill, cold and wet, remember that His grace in Christ calls to us from His Word. Take a moment, rest under a hillside oak for shelter, and open His Word. He will teach you, strengthen you, and bring hope to you. Then, you will find yourself warm, dry, and ready to climb again. Go climb. Climb with hope. Climb in grace…

Safe Harbors Aren’t Silent…

 

If you will lend me a few moments I will try to make it worth your time. I want to address a topic that is rarely discussed among Christians. Please allow me to introduce it with two experiences that I had last week.

 

Last Monday I had a nice dad-and-daughter discussion about life being made up of “different times.” We read Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 — grab your Bible and take a peek at it — and were reminded that both good and bad times come and go. It was a rich discussion, and we discussed how important it is to learn to identify and appreciate each time for what it is — a passing season. If you are wondering what sparked that discussion, well, let’s just say that someone close to our family had hinted that crying is “bad,” and that one shouldn’t cry, ever. Ecclesiastes cleared that up nicely. Truly there is “a time to weep, and a time to laugh.” Especially with a teenager in the house.

 

The second experience involved reading an article on Twitter by @Desiring God about anxiety, OCD, and how Christians can deal with both (@Desiring God is a must follow on Twitter and DesiringGod.com is one of the top Christian resources online). Let’s be honest, few Christians discuss those topics. And, please don’t pretend that you do not get anxious or worry a bit too much for your own good, and know someone close to you that checks his/her alarm clock or door locks a few too many times.  Sadly, we choose to remain silent during such topics. Now that we have that out of the bag, onward.

 

For those of you furrowing your brow in disbelief about how these two experiences can be interlaced for the good of humanity — O ye of little faith and scant imagination — have a seat, read on, and you’ll see. If you aren’t convinced at this point then go back to reading your current issue of Negativity Illustrated or Crusty Mind, Calloused Soul.

 

Here’s how the two intersect: each of us slog through seasons of life that are anxious, troubling, or blue. It’s part of life. Seasons of life are part of the deal, and keeping our mind and soul well-keeled during each of them is a consistent challenge.

 

Knowing and admitting that each of us Christ-followers has flaws, struggles, and obstacles let’s us latch onto a verse, begin to sort it out, and apply it to our lives.

 

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of love, power, and a sound mind.” 2 Timothy 1:7 (NKJV).

 

Frequent readers of this blog — stellar folks with fine taste I might add — have seen this verse before. It’s one of my favorites because it covers vast, rugged terrain in a few brisk steps. It shows us that God does not want to us have fear or anxiety. Not ever. God’s design is for each believer to continually know a sense of His power and enjoy sound mindedness (also translated as “self-control” or “controlled mind”). 2 Timothy 1:7 can expose and exterminate problems that exist between your ears, your mind and soul, you and others, and your use of time and mental energy.  God’s Will is for you to have abiding peace and joy in life (see John 14:27-28 and John 15:11). Holding to this and recognizing that there are seasons in life that rise and fall, stride and stagger, helps you to appreciate that those times are temporary. This enables you to view your thoughts, attitudes, patterns, and life in view of the light of God’s truth. It is in His light that we see light (Psalm 36:9 and 119:130), especially during dark days.

 

In closing, as you go through tough seasons in your life please know that:

  • Other Christ-followers go through the same things.
  • There is a connection between the tone of the mind and the timbre of the soul, bath yourself in God’s Word. Both mutually benefit from it.
  • There is no reason to be silent about it. In the New Testament we are commanded to encourage, pray for, lift up, and help one another. (I happen to know a Bearded Acorn working on a book manuscript about the “one another” commands in the New Testament. Nice teaser, eh!)

 

Many Christians, and churches, lean away from discussing blue, jittery, or unsettled aspects and seasons of life. That is a shame, and a bit of a sham. Someone that you know is currently going through one. Acting as if you haven’t struggled in a similar way is poorly disguised Pharisee-ism

 

Because of what we have covered in these few paragraphs please set your mind on easing the mind and soul of someone else this week. As God’s compass has steadied your ship during tempestuous times you then are able to offer safe harbor for others.

 

“But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, 7 and not only by his coming but also by the comfort with which he was comforted by you …”2 Corinthians 7:6-7a

 

Did you catch that? God comforts us so that we can comfort one another. There is mutual relief and restoration in sailing alongside a fellow believer. Pull up the anchor, set your course toward a small boat rocking on the waves, secure them to your ship, and help them to the harbor…

Fearful, fruitless; fearless, fruitful…

It would be within the bounds of reason to say that we live in fearful times. Once common sense exited our culture years ago, common decency soon vacated the premises as well. So, here we are in what appears to be, for the most part, a culture lacking good sense and goodness. A question then bubbles to the surface: as Christ-followers how do we live in these fearful times?

The answer is simple: do not be fearful. Easier said than done, right? Our culture sells products, policies, and philosophies based on the creation of fear. How? The message that is subtly delivered is one that suggests that if you do not have certain things or ideas in your life then you will miss out. Fear motivates; fear sells. But, it can only influence for a little while. How are believers — who certainly have natural, internal fears about family, finances, work, etc. — to climb above our society’s effective creation of fear and prodding at fear that we already harbor? By not buying into it.

The principle that must be grasped straightaway in combating fear is that we have to learn to identify “voices” and listen to the only One that is trustworthy. There is only one Speaker who has both the knowledge and veracity to deserve our full attention — God.

We hear Him speak above the shoutings of our society and the mumblings in our minds when we sit before Him and read His Word. From front to back of the Bible God repeatedly tells His people to “fear not” and “do not be afraid.” He means it. Search an online Bible for the phrases, “fear not” and “do not be afraid.” Go ahead. You will be surprised at how many times God told, and still tells, His people to avoid fear.

To dig in further we need to know why fear is so harmful. Fear is actually selfish, and self-promoting. Harboring fear in your heart and mind is to walk by sight instead of by faith. It is trusting what you see before you, know inside you, and plan to do about it all rather than trusting God. In a sense it’s a way of saying, “I’ve got this,” yet lacking the power or resources to resolve your situation at all. On the other hand, faith is taking God at His word and trusting Him instead of the shrieking voices around you and the nagging voice within your own mind. It boils down to whom you will listen to and trust to take care of you.

Here are some examples of how to fatally attack fear with the spear of God’s Word :

  • Do you ever have a flash of fear ignite in your mind for no reason? Here’s a remedy to it: “Do not be afraid of sudden fear…” (Proverbs 3:25)
  • Do you have a general sense of fear most of the time? Here’s God’s plan for that: “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of love and power and a sound mind” (2 Tim 1:7).  So, a spirit of fear does not come from God, and is not His design for you. He gives us a spirit of power and a sound mind (Whew!).
  • Are you in the middle of a thunderstorm, avalanche, or sinkhole in life? Then read this slowly, lap it up: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea.” (Psalm 46:1-2)

You get the picture. Whatever you are facing — whether internal or external, large or small — God’s word speaks to you and your situation in a voice loud and clear: “Do not fear, trust Me to take care of you in this.”
In closing, it would be profitable, and a wee bit painful, to diagnose how you respond to fear. It is one thing to treat symptoms with Scripture, it is an entirely different thing to kill the infection that causes the symptoms. So, here are some questions for you to answer honestly and prayerfully as a way to help you to present fear its notice of eviction:

  1. Are you fearful and worrisome by nature? If so, memorize 2 Timothy 1:7.
  2. Are you a good host for fear? In other words, do you welcome fear into your mind/heart, offer it tea and cookies, and allow it to sit by the fire and get comfortable? If so, stop it; toss fear out on its rear and grow your faith (it replaces fear) by memorizing Scripture.
  3. Is your first response to fear to dwell on it, or to immediately pray for wisdom and strength?
  4. Do you have godly folks to talk to about what you are dealing with? Proverbs 11:14 states that with an abundance of (godly) counselors there is safety and wisdom. Allowing fear to roam around freely in your mind can be combatted by talking about it with godly friends or your pastor.
  5. Do you really want to be free from the paralyzing effects of fear? If so, you can by spending more time in God’s word and in prayer. It really is that simple.

My grandmother — an outstanding worrier — used to say, “hard work won’t kill anybody, but worrying will.” She ultimately died of a stroke. No kidding.

Get a handle on fear by getting ahold of God’s Word, listening to what it has to say, and allowing it to silence the voices of anxiety and fear.

Of note: “casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:7

‘Nuff said…